Environmental engineers are developing new technologies to harness and transform nutrient-rich urine into sustainable fertilizer. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: This is the Swamp, a football stadium that seats upwards of 90,000 fans when the University of Florida Gators host a home game. If Treavor Boyer had his way, this field and all of the people attending the games would be part of a massive science experiment in sustainability. Here are two facts: 1 - Urine is nutrient rich, containing high concentrations of nitrogen as well as phosphorous, and potassium. 2 - 90,000 people produce A LOT of urine. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TREAVOR BOYER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING, SAYING: "You can collect enough nitrogen over those seven home football games to meet the nutrient requirements for that field for the growing season." Boyer's idea is that instead streaming the urine to a waste water facility where its nutrients go to waste, collect the pee in giant vats at the stadium and then use it to fertilize the field. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TREAVOR BOYER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING, SAYING: "So you collect urine in the storage tank. Then what you want is for it to sit for a period of time, probably on the order of several weeks. That allows it to change chemistry and it is an important change in chemistry where the nitrogen goes from urea, which is excreted from our metabolism and it gets transformed into ammonia." And ammonia, says Boyer, is a powerful fertilizer. But separating the urine from the rest of the waste is easier said than done. This is where the urine lab comes in. Here the team is hard at work developing the next generation of waterless urinals and newly designed toilets with the goal of harnessing the pee while using just a fraction of the water needed to operate conventional bathrooms. Once collected in a storage tank and after its chemical transformation, the solution can be further processed to extract the nutrients into a solid fertilizer which can be easily transported. Boyer is confident that his team can figure out the Science. He says the biggest problem is getting people over the 'ick' factor. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TREAVOR BOYER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING, SAYING: "We know a can should get recycled. I don't think most people feel that way about urine, right? Most people don't urinate and be like that should have been recycled and recovered. But in my sort of vision of maybe a slightly skewed world that's what I want people to think about every time they urinate, like wow, those are nutrients that could have been saved and re-used. " If all goes as planned, this grass will soon be 'greener' in more ways than one.